New Zealand v Ireland: Three key match-ups
WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT: Three head-to-heads for the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal between defending champions New Zealand and Ireland on Saturday:
Beauden Barrett v Johnny Sexton
World Player of the Year Sexton will have to be at his very best to direct his side against the All Blacks, for whom free-running Barrett will start at fullback, Richie Mo’unga lining up at flyhalf.
“I think they’re better than a one-man team but your 10’s pretty important,” said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
“Conor Murray does a lot of kicking and they use Sexton to drive them around the park and their big forwards to carry and why would they want to change? That’s been very successful for them.”
Sexton said he would take heart from having won two of the last three games Ireland have played against New Zealand.
“You know how big a task it’s going to be, it’s going to be an incredibly tough game but one we’re looking forward to,” Sexton said. “I suppose we can take a little bit of confidence from the last few times we’ve played them.”
Kieran Read v CJ Stander
All Blacks skipper Read may be coming to the end of his career, but the 124-capped No.8 remains a dominant force at the back of the scrum. Read will pack down in between Ardie Savea and Sam Cane and will be a real test for the South African-born Stander, who excels with ball in hand.
“It’s a terrific challenge for our boys, especially in the back row up against those guys,” Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby said.
“There’s lots of intrigue and the back row will be a good one. We’ve come up against those players before and we’ve come off second best, at times, and we’ve got the better of them at times. There are lots of mini-battles going on in the bigger war on Saturday.”
Ireland’s Kiwi-born centre Bundee Aki is serving a three-match ban for a high tackle that brought his World Cup to a premature end.
But Robbie Henshaw is back to fitness and will likely be partnered by Garry Ringrose.
They will have their hands full, however, against an All Blacks midfield that has excelled in this tournament.
Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue are the preferred starters against Ireland, with Sonny Bill Williams on the bench and Ryan Crotty missing out altogether.
“They’ve got great midfield options,” Lienert-Brown said of Ireland. “I don’t think they’re going to lose too much but Bundee definitely does bring something a little bit different. He’s got great footwork and he sort of brings the X-factor in that way.
“But it doesn’t matter who they’re going to put out there, their midfield’s quality.”